Anarchy And Islam

January 11th, 2012   Submitted by Davi Barker

I’ve met muslims of every school of anarchist thought from anarcho-socialists to national-anarchists. Prominent among them are Hakim Bay’s “ontological anarchism” and Yakoub Islam’s “post-colonial anarcho-pacifism” but this is my story.

Since about 2008 I’ve used the username “TheMuslimAgorist” on various message boards and social networking sites. Before that my anarchist leanings were largely private. It was a caller to Free Talk Live named “Gene the Christian Anarchist” who inspired me to come out. He expressed many of my own views on government, specifically that governments don’t factually exist. They are just people doing things. I’m ambivalent about the word “anarchist” because of the associations it has for most people, so I briefly used the term “nonarchist” before settling on “agorist” which is essentially a market-anarchist, “agora” being Greek for “market.” I like that it’s a word that most people are unfamiliar with, so I am free to define myself on my own terms.

In some abstract sense I have been both an anarchist and a muslim since I was child, though I was unaware of either. I was an anarchist in the sense that I have never accepted illegitimate authority. I was the kid in elementary school who would not stand for the pledge of allegiance and the teenager in the punk rock regalia. I was a muslim only in the sense that I have always sought a direct connection with God without any intermediary. I believed in God as far back as I can remember, which is interesting because my parents were not religious at all, and I received no religious instruction. In those days my anarchism and my islam were not philosophical. I didn’t even know what to call them. They came from my gut.

This brings us to my first foundational concept. I believed this before I converted to islam but I had no word for it. Muslims call it “fitra” which is the concept that we are born good. There is no doctrine of original sin in islam. By contrast I call this concept “original virtue.” Muslims believe in an innate predisposition to truth and virtue. So, part of preserving our original virtue is trusting our earliest preferences and natural instincts. To me this suggests that evil and corruption are not innate but behaviors learned through propaganda or aggression.

This concept perfectly compliments the science in the video series “The Bomb in the Brain” by anarchist philosopher Stephan Molyneux and leads inexorably to the parenting style he advocates. He argues that violence in society, including the state itself, is an expression of childhood trauma. In fact, he suggests that many social vices like drug abuse and promiscuity that religious conservatives think should be addressed with aggression are actually caused by aggression against children. In other words, a society in which children were free to reach adulthood with their original virtue intact would likely exhibit the righteous conduct desired by religious people, whether it was religious or not. If you extrapolate forward and imagine a population composed of such adults you arrive at a society characterized by non aggression.

In college I was infected with many collectivist ideas, but I was also mildly obsessed with Ron Paul. There was a lot of contradiction in my thinking but it was invisible to me because I hadn’t thought very critically about it. It was actually my conversion to islam in 2006 that motivated me to begin a deeper intellectual inquiry to clarify my thinking about both religion and politics.

It’s actually easy to find the non aggression principle in the Quran, “There shall be no compulsion in religion” (Quran 2:256). Scholars say this verse is only prohibiting forced conversion, but the surrounding verses concern creed not proselytizing, so I see no reason not to apply it universally. The Arabic word “din” actually means “complete way of life” not just “religion.” It seems to me that a complete way of life with no compulsion means a religion, a family life and even a political order with no compulsion. Actions which are coerced have no moral value, and the aim of islam is to place moral value in every action, so coercion can never accomplish this.

It’s also easy to find the free market in the Quran, “Do not consume one another’s property unjustly, except that there be trade amongst you by mutual consent.” (Quran 4:29) “Thou shalt not steal” implicitly presumes property rights. Islam is a religion of commerce, in fact before Muhammad’s prophethood he was a successful merchant. In early islamic society the scales of justice were also icons of commerce, and the merchant was regarded as one of the most beneficial people in society, because it was recognized that commerce was the source of material wealth, including the wealth that people gave in charity.

As a muslim espousing a liberty perspective I found a lot of hostility online from people insisting the Quran commanded violence against non-muslims. The favorite of anti-muslim demagogues and islamic extremists alike is the so-called Verse of the Sword which reads, “Fight and slay the pagans wherever you find them” (Quran 9:5). It looks bad right? But the verse just before it reads, “Your peace treaties are not dissolved with those pagans who have not aggressed against you,” and the verse just after it reads, “if one amongst the pagans asks you for asylum grant it to him and escort him to a place of safety.”

If you read the entire chapter it tells the story of a specific pagan tribe that murdered a group of muslims. Permission was given to retaliate against the aggressors, but no one else. This is what I found with every instance of violence in the Quran. It was always a defensive measure, which does more to confirm the non aggression principle than violate it.

During his life all prophet Muhammad’s followers consented to his political leadership voluntarily and individually, face to face. He never claimed the authority to legislate over people who did not consent, and the Jewish and Pagan tribes of Arabia maintained their own independent legal systems. In other words, he never established a regional monopoly on law. But when he died a split occurred over who should be his successor. Those who followed Muhammad’s cousin Ali became the Shiites, and those who followed Muhammad’s closest adviser Abu Bakr became the Sunnis, but there was a third group which argued that they had only made oaths to Muhammad, so they would not follow either leader. They were the Kharijites. To them every individual was responsible for their own salvation, and they demanded complete political independence because they felt they should have no master but God. So there was a school of anarchist thought in islam from the outset.

It’s easy for me to romanticize about the Kharijites, but history remembers them as the fanatics of their day. Sunnis and Shiites traveling in Kharijite territories would actually wear Christian crosses because the Kharijites took seriously the Quranic injunction to respect People of the Book, but they would kill Sunnis and Shias as heretics. It’s possible that they’ve been maligned by historians just as anarchists are maligned today, but there’s no way to know and I’m not particularly interested in resurrecting some long dead minority sect of islam. The fact remains that for most of islamic history there has been an islamic state. Even if I can find the seeds of anarchist and libertarian thought looking into the past is a bit like walking into a mirage. So, recently I’ve taken a more evolutionary approach.

It is reported in the Musnad of Ahmad ibn Hanbal, which is a compilation of widely accepted prophetic sayings that Muhammad said, “I will remain among you as long as God wills. Afterwards there will be my successors who follow my guidance… Then there will be a reign of oppressive kings… Then there will be a reign of despotic tyrants.”

For non muslims this likely means little more than the writings of Nostradamus, but for muslims it is clear that it has already progressed to kings, and hard to argue it hasn’t progressed to full blown tyrants. So, for muslims who accept this prediction any attempt to reform government could only result in further tyranny. If rulers inevitably become tyrants, then the only acceptable course of action for people concerned with justice is to stop installing rulers and begin to explore stateless alternatives to social problems. The reality for muslims today is that this is less an intellectual exercise and more a practical necessity, especially in light the tenuous hold the current tyrannies hold over their people.

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33 Responses to “Anarchy And Islam”

  1. AlbertNo Gravatar says:

    Gday Davi. Fascinating to read from a muslim who is also an anarchist. Really refreshing actually. I hope all of Islam can think like you do.

  2. Seth KingNo Gravatar says:

    Davi, have you personally met other Muslims who consider themselves anarcho-capitalists or voluntaryists? Also, are you actively working on other Muslims in your area, or do you prefer to tread lightly? Lastly, do you feel there is much anarchist sentiment in the middle east and northern Africa right now, or do you think it is universally a pro-democracy movement?

    • Davi BarkerNo Gravatar says:

      I have met a handful of other an-cap muslims, mostly online. In meat space I meat a lot of libertarian muslims and alot of an-soc muslims. My outreach strategy with muslims in my area is just to answer questions honestly and resist them temptation to pander. I put blurbs about agorism on all my marketing materials for my graphic clients, and I gave out George’s Famous Baklava as Ramadan gifts this year. But I’m still treading lightly.

      I think there is some anarchist thought in the Middle East, but it’s a minority perspective same as it is here. My impression is the Arab Spring is dominantly a democratic movement.

  3. serhatNo Gravatar says:

    Mr. Barker – I was raised in a muslim family and practiced islam for a while. (Sunni – Hanefi) I wouldn’t consider myself a muslim anymore but I have great sympathies for many muslims that I know. They are great people and very independent minded.
    Recently, I was asked by a group of friends to explain them what islam is all about and how to understand muslim people better. When asked this way, I’ve realized how little I know about Islam at all. Could you point me to some non-biased materials that I can use to educate myself.

    • Davi BarkerNo Gravatar says:

      Honestly I don’t know. I’m always trying to go back to primary sources instead of believing what I’m told, but that’s pretty time consuming. Zaytuna College is excellent for traditional scholarship. There’s a book called, “a brief illustrated guide to understanding islam” that’s good for basics. But if “non-biased” materials you’re looking for the closest thing you’re going to get is yourself. It’s like any media. The bias of the spokesman is always going to seep in.

    • Bob WilliamsNo Gravatar says:

      Greetings in Peace,
      I recommend a reading of Henry Grady Weaver’s chapter 10 in his The Mainspring of Human Progresss, available free online. Also, Hammudah Abdalati’s Islam in Focus is a good sociological take. It is also important to translates ‘siyaasah’ correctly – it is not politics from the Greek ‘poleis’, but something totally UN-Greek. ‘Siyaasah’ is governance, along the order of voluntary cooperative order practiced amongst Anabaptist groups. Most Muslims are in a state of ignorance about the voluntaryism of Qur’aan.

  4. HReardenNo Gravatar says:

    Anarchy means without rulers. Many religious followers of various religions believe that there is an ultimate ruler of the universe. Those two concepts contradict each other.

    $

    • Seth KingNo Gravatar says:

      We are all ruled by the laws of nature. Does that disqualify everyone?

    • Davi BarkerNo Gravatar says:

      Implicit in your comment is that I should be ruled by consistency.

    • EddyKNo Gravatar says:

      God is not a ruler. I don’t believe in god myself. Anyone who says “only god is my ruler” is in my eyes just ruling himself. Any conception of god he might have is self-created.

      Besides, politics just concern humans. Not all knowing-deities.

      • HReardenNo Gravatar says:

        There are people who believe in a god who is a ruler. There are people who believe in a god who punishes people who do not obey him. Wouldn’t such a god be a ruler god?

        $

        • EddyKNo Gravatar says:

          Not to me. I don’t believe their god exists, so whatever their god supposedly tells them, to me its like they are talking to themselves.

          There is a difference if people start listening to a “church” or a “high-priest” or something. Those actually are rulers. Gods are not rulers in the eyes of an atheist.

          This is why I have no problem with the “only god is my ruler” theists. To me it might as well read “only I am my ruler”.

          • HReardenNo Gravatar says:

            As an Atheist I don’t believe that gods are rulers because gods do not exist. However, to many theists gods are rulers.

            $

            • WillNo Gravatar says:

              So, in your opinion imaginary rulers should be eliminated as well as real ones?

              • HReardenNo Gravatar says:

                People have a right to believe in imaginary rulers. One can argue that there are no real rulers be they a real person or not. Those who believe in imaginary rulers do not have the right to force or demand that others respect their belief in them.

                $

    • The DistributarianNo Gravatar says:

      There is no contradiction between anarchism and belief in God. God is the “law-giver,” He made rules that we’re supposed to follow. But He’s not forcing us to obey them. He’s not shooting lightning bolts at us each time we disobey.
      Anarchy does not mean “no rules”…in the strictest sense, it does not even mean “no government.” It means “no domination” or “no coercion”. Anarchy is “order without violence” (Proudhon) Murray Rothbard, Robert Murphy, and other anarchist theorists have spent much time dealing with the issue of “law and order” in an anarchist society.
      There are several books by Alexandre Christoyannopoulos on religious anarchism, one of them even touches on Islamic anarchism, I think.
      Besides, there can be no good argument for anarchism from an atheistic perspective! Islam teaches that God exists, that God created a universal moral law that states that violence/coercion is wrong. From an Islamic perspective, coercion is always wrong because of God’s decree. So, from those premises (#1 God exists and has made certain decrees about ethics, and #2 God has decreed that coercion/violence is wrong) we can reach the conclusion that anarchism is valid because it is the only way of organizing society that does not violate God’s law. So, religion is the only thing that can make anarchism legitimate.
      From an atheistic perspective, you cannot really say that coercion/violence is wrong. If an atheist says that violence is wrong, then the religious person can simply reply, “BY WHAT STANDARD?” By what standard do you declare that violence is wrong and anarchy is good? By your arbitrary humanistic standard? You have no real standard! It is merely your personal opinion that anarchy is good and statism is bad, but your opinion is totally arbitrary. From an atheistic perspective, there’s no universal laws of morality; everything is relative. If that’s the case, then you can’t really claim that there’s a real, definite, and absolute distinction between good and evil, so you can’t say that violent statism is bad and non-violent anarchism is good.

  5. EddyKNo Gravatar says:

    Looks like I have some new targeted adds. Thanks Davi! http://i.imgur.com/CtQzT.jpg

  6. AmrushNo Gravatar says:

    Hey Davi .. Great read, tbh!

    I’ve been considering anarchy as a way of life for a while. For all I know, I hate all forms of established power. I believe that Islam and Qur’an should be direct between Allah and said human being. I don’t see the need for intermediaries especially self/government appointed scholars.

    My question is, what should I read or where can I find reliable sources about Anarcho-Islam? if there are any! and yeah, I follow you on twitter already :)

  7. salaam
    my path to identifying myself as a muslim anarchist strikes a cord with yours. As a child, I was rebellious against any state authority. But it took a video of ray st claire of the freemen of the land standing up to the bogus uk magistrates courts that started my journey to really understanding what it means to be free http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uU7G6XIMt2Q
    But even before then, years of studying unschooling put me in that vacinity of how damaging coercion is.
    And since then it has been a whirlwind.
    Have been meaning to put my thoughts down on why Islam and Anarchism are from the same cloth, and why I identify myself as Muslim Anarchist.
    Will do it soon Inshallah.
    @muslimanarchist
    And i am pleased to have met Davi online. The introduction to rosa wilder lane (grandaughter of the little house on the prarie) “Islam and the discovery of freedom” was a real eye opener

  8. AaronNo Gravatar says:

    Davi,

    I just watched a video on Misses.org of Mustafa Akyol he mentioned a lot of the same things you did.

    http://mises.org/media/5900/The-Commercial-Heritage-and-Contribut ion-of-Islam

    He also wrote a book, Islam without Extremes: A Muslim Case for Liberty, have you read it?

  9. Tor MunkovNo Gravatar says:

    As a Solipsist Anarchist, I see great potential for Anarcho-Islam. I would predict An-Is will spread even faster than Anarchism and Islam are spreading.
    Islam is Monotheism 3.0 and will continue to subsume Judaism and Christianity.
    I see Anarchism as a new synthesis of non-aggression and multiple interpersonal voluntary contracts.
    Contractual Man will continue to outperform Natural Man, and the system that best respects individual contracts, which I believe means Anarchism, will in the long run be the most successful and the most widely adapted.

  10. AnotherfreemanNo Gravatar says:

    All of this is very simple… Faith is a choice. Not forced on anyone (here in america). Government is forced upon you simply by where you are born and the looming threat of violence due to disobedience is very real and present with absolutely no choice. If someones parents raise them with faith in something, there still has to be a point of personal acceptance or it’s just like anything else your parents tell you…in one ear and out the other. No if you believe in people living freely, you must accept their faith in something that uses coercive force on no one, or your just like any other statist trying to tell someone how to live. My fellow anarchists are often the worst at differentiating these circumstances, and i believe it helps the progressive movement of market anarchism ZERO. Someone having faith in Jesus or mohhamed has zero effect on your personal rights and freedoms. Let’s not get stuck on a treadmill with each other. Now I’m all for respectful theological debate with open minds, but let’s remain respectful, open, and reminded that we arnt even debating coercive force anymore…

  11. AnotherfreemanNo Gravatar says:

    There is a major difference between bending to man and bending to our Creator.

  12. I rarely leave a response, however i did a few searching and wound up here Anarchy And Islam – Daily Anarchist. And I do have a couple of questions for you if you tend not to mind. Could it be only me or does it look like a few of the remarks come across as if they are coming from brain dead folks? :-P And, if you are posting on additional online sites, I’d like to follow everything fresh you have to post. Would you make a list of every one of all your communal sites like your linkedin profile, Facebook page or twitter feed?

  13. viva68No Gravatar says:

    ]

    AnotherfreemanNo Gravatar says:

    April 24, 2012 at 11:54 am

    ‘Someone having faith in Jesus or mohhamed has zero effect on your personal rights and freedoms.’

    As if. It does if they attempt to coerce with their beliefs or use violence to proselytise their faith or coerce others into their belief system.

    If someone wants to satirise their beliefs then they should have the freedom to do so. As you hqve said; faith is a choice – and its also a choice to question, mock, satirise and criticise faith. Free speech, one each.

  14. P-ANo Gravatar says:

    One thing that should not be forgotten is that the logic principle of non-contradiction (and that of middle exclusion, meaning no possibility between true and false) has existed in western thought for over two thousand years, going back to Aristotle’s writings.

    Such principles, while having referents in other cultures, are not as monolithic as it is in our own thought. Bertrand Russel (and top mathematicians) wrote on some of those issues, especially on the possibility of contradiction in our beliefs, in our thought-experiments and in our world in general, as a place where we practice our logic.

    Without giving 100% credit to those people, I do believe that anarchist thought, as well as post-colonial and all other radical ideologies/way of beings go through our views of logic as well.

    Even if for some there seems to be a contradiction between anarchism and theism, in my own view, it only stems from their western-biased way of seeing the world and society. If your stands are against hierarchies and the colonization of mind, then it would normal to apply such standards to everything (again, some could oppose me the fact that such linearity in principles is against all that I have argued prior to those lines)

    Anyway, just some flow of thought!

    Peace!

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